The sophomore offensive tackle wants to be able to celebrate an Auburn football victory over the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday evening and for his 20th birthday on Sunday. "It should be pretty exciting," the six-foot-nine, 329-pounder says.
Auburn and Georgia kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CST in the 107th renewal of the SEC's oldest rivalry. Georgia won last year's showdown with last minute heroics on a fourth down touchdown pass when McNeill was a freshman. Two years ago when he was a bluechip prospect at Cedar Grove High in Decatur, Ga., the Tigers knocked off UGA with the help of a last-second goal line stand.
"It is always a big game," McNeil says. "A lot of my friends play for UGA and it is a big rivalry here, too." Both teams will be trying to bounce back for losses. Georgia fell 16-13 to divisional rival Florida a week ago last Saturday and will have an extra week to prepare for Auburn. The Tigers fell 24-20 to Ole Miss.
Auburn has won on its last five trips to Sanford Stadium and McNeill and the Tigers would be thrilled to make it six in a row. If Auburn wins the game, the big offensive tackle should play a major role in the victory. Earlier in the season there was a concern about whether or not a back problem would have him sidelined for this contest and other big games.
"My back is holding up pretty well, a lot better than we thought it was going to be holding up this late in the season," McNeill says. "My stamina is pretty good. There are a few aches and pains here and there."
To avoid the pain he and his teammates felt after an agonizing last seconds loss to Ole Miss last week, McNeill says the offense has to play better, starting with the linemen. "We definitely have to pick up on our technique," he says. "We have to pay attention to the little things. Everytime we had a chance to score last week and we didn't it was basically because of one thing happening. It is always that one thing that is keeping us from thriving and doing what this offense can do. It is one step here and there. People staying low. It is always the little things that come back to get you."
McNeil was one of the top high school athletes in Georgia at Cedar Grove High where he was a four-sport standout and honor student.
McNeill, an All-SEC Freshman Team selection last season, says he considered playing football at Georgia, but picked the Tigers for a variety of reasons with the engineering program at AU a major factor.
The big tackle predicts his team will be able to bounce back from the loss vs. Ole Miss. "The team attitude is a lot better than you probably think it was with our SEC goal going down the drain this week," he says. "Everybody is saying that we are really are planning on fighting for these seniors. People are going to say this was a disappointing year and stuff like that. We are going to give it all we have got the last couple games."
McNeill says he wants to see his senior teammates go out as winners and that assignment starts this Saturday in Athens, Ga., where the Bulldogs have won 12 consecutive games since falling to Auburn 24-17 on Nov. 10, 2001.